ref·er·ence | \ ˈre-fərn(t)s , ˈre-f(ə-)rən(t)s \

Definition of reference 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1 : the act of referring or consulting

2 : a bearing on a matter : relation in reference to your recent letter

3 : something that refers: such as

a : allusion, mention

b : something (such as a sign or indication) that refers a reader or consulter to another source of information (such as a book or passage)

c : consultation of sources of information

4 : one referred to or consulted: such as

a : a person to whom inquiries as to character or ability can be made

b : a statement of the qualifications of a person seeking employment or appointment given by someone familiar with the person

c(1) : a source of information (such as a book or passage) to which a reader or consulter is referred

(2) : a work (such as a dictionary or encyclopedia) containing useful facts or information

d : denotation, meaning



Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used or usable for reference especially : constituting a standard for measuring or constructing


referenced; referencing

Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to supply with references

b : to cite in or as a reference

2 : to put in a form (such as a table) adapted to easy reference

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Synonyms for reference

Synonyms: Noun

authority, source

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Examples of reference in a Sentence


references to an earlier event The numbers were calculated by reference to the most recent census. Reference to a map will make the position clear. She listed her former teacher as a reference when she applied for the job. Her former teacher gave her a reference when she applied for the job. Her teacher gave her a letter of reference.


a list of reference materials


The book references many other authors who have written on this topic.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Dear Doreen: [In reference to the huge turnout at the Build-a-Bear Workshop event on July 12] My husband went with our son, saw the line and left the mall. Doreen Christensen,, "Dear Doreen's Deals: Locked-up carts at Aldi keep prices low; what's tax-free for back to school," 13 July 2018 Police have identified a car in reference to the shooting of a 7-year-old girl in Baltimore. Lauren Lumpkin,, "Baltimore police release video of car believed to be involved in shooting of 7-year-old girl," 8 July 2018 The cups, hand-painted and signed, incorporate the artist’s signature blue and white in reference to traditional Asian ceramic glazes, Dutch Delftware and Blue Willow china patterns. Matthew J. Palm,, "Take home art by Jiha Moon at Mennello special events," 3 July 2018 It was called the OPEC-9 communique in a reference to the number of member countries that got on board. Javier Blas,, "OPEC Heads to Decisive Meeting With Four Possible Outcomes," 22 June 2018 June 8 Officers were dispatched to the 4200 block South Judson in reference to an assault report. Houston Chronicle, "West University Place Police Department report," 18 June 2018 Our officers responded to 318 Miracle Strip Parkway, SW, at 0129 hours in reference to a disorderly incident between staff and a customer. Breanna Edwards, The Root, "Are We Done Yet With Waffle House? Viral Video Shows Black Couple Being Arrested for Questioning Juice Charge at Florida Waffle House," 14 June 2018 There were some Harry Potter references to be seen, along with a few Star Wars-themed signs as well. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Best Signs From London Trump Protests," 14 July 2018 In the men’s open division alone, there are four references to the sitting U.S. President, two mentions of Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer and one each for Stormy Daniels and Kevin Spacey. Bryce Miller,, "Cover your ears: Over-the-Line evolves, but the raunchy team names remain," 14 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Bolton was not alone in infuriating Pyongyang by publicly referencing Libya. Kevin Liptak, CNN, "Bolton sidelined as Trump readies for North Korea," 4 June 2018 Trump has already twice referenced the club publicly during his visit to Europe., "Trump arrives in Scotland for weekend at golf course," 13 July 2018 The silhouette recalled the styles favored by First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s, indeed Trump has referenced Kennedy as a style influence in the past. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Melania Trump Wears Dior to Meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle," 13 July 2018 Eight of Poland’s 84 active Supreme Court judges—55 after subtracting those facing dismissal—tried cases during Poland’s Communist era of military rule, local private broadcaster TVN found, referencing historical archives. Drew Hinshaw, WSJ, "Poland Steps Up Supreme Court Purge," 13 July 2018 DaSilva closed her letter by referencing comments made by Hill on Friday. Ryan Martin, Indianapolis Star, "GOP staffer speaks on groping allegations against Attorney General Curtis Hill," 12 July 2018 Because each user was identified with the activity, the reporters were able to use their name and city to cross-reference the information to figure out a user’s home address. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "Polar Fitness suspends its global activity map after privacy concerns," 8 July 2018 Johansson’s rep told Bustle, referencing other cisgender actors who have played transgender roles. Aric Jenkins, Fortune, "Scarlett Johansson's Casting as a Transgender Man Highlights an Industry-Wide Problem," 5 July 2018 Last week: 11 Sparred with Chris at the beginning of the episode, and immediately took a shot at him in the debate, referencing Chris’ near walk-out in Episode 5. Nick Schwartz, For The Win, "Bachelorette Power Rankings: Becca finally realizes that Chris is the worst," 3 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'reference.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of reference


1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1856, in the meaning defined above


1876, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

11 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for reference

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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More Definitions for reference



English Language Learners Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: the act of mentioning something in speech or in writing : the act of referring to something or someone

: the act of looking at or in something for information

: a person who can be asked for information about another person's character, abilities, etc.



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used to find information about something

: used to tell people where information can be found



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

: to mention (something or someone) in speech or in writing : to refer to (something or someone)


ref·er·ence | \ ˈre-fə-rəns , ˈref-rəns \

Kids Definition of reference

1 : the act of looking at or in something for information Reference to a map will make our location clear.

2 : a relation to or concern with something I am writing in reference to your advertisement.

3 : the act or an instance of mentioning They made no references to my error.

4 : a work (as a dictionary) that contains useful information

5 : something that refers a reader to another source of information

6 : a person who can be asked for information about another person's character or ability

7 : a written statement about someone's character or ability


ref·er·ence | \ ˈref-(ə-)rən(t)s \

Medical Definition of reference 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: of known potency and used as a standard in the biological assay of a sample of the same drug of unknown strength a dose of reference cod-liver oil


Medical Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 2)

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ref·er·ence | \ ˈre-frəns, -fə-rəns \

Legal Definition of reference 

1 : an act of referring specifically : mention or citation of one document (as a statute) in another a municipality may adopt by reference all or a part of this title Alaska Statutes — see also incorporate

2 : a referral especially to a legislative committee or master also : an order referring a matter to a master the extent to which any party is more responsible than other parties for the reference to a master Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 53(g)

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Comments on reference

What made you want to look up reference? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


an open space surrounded by woods

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